R Ashoka, Karnataka’s cabinet minister for transport is known for introducing Volvo services for Bangalore International Airport and supporting the expansion technology into Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation. He boasts of making public transport available and desirable by both the rich and the poor. He was the health minister in the previous JDS-BJP government.
This is his fourth term in the Vidhana Soudha and he was elected from Padmanabhanagar constituency. In the last three terms he was elected from Uttarahalli. Katriguppe, Ilyasnagar, Kaverinagar in his constituency are neglected. R Ashok’s 2008 declaration of Rs. 10.06 crores in total assets reflects a 2,604.7 per cent increase from his 2004 declaration.
Turning 52 earlier this month, this senior BJP leader had never thought of becoming a politician, he says. He devoted his youth to Kabaddi in the hope of representing the country one day. A university player, he represented Bangalore twice. He broke his leg playing against Maharashtra which put a halt to his sports ambition.
Born into a farming family, his father lost a major portion of his 45 acres of agricultural land to the public sector company, Hindustan Machine Tools. In compensation, the company hired his father. Ashoka then focused on studies. After finishing his primary education at a government school in Jalahalli and high school from HMT School, he chose to study Science in PUC at V V Puram College. But his father’s dream of his son becoming an engineer was shattered when he got low scores in II PUC. Ashoka admits to having been an average student, went onto to complete his B Sc, though he had to drop out of LLB (law degree) course halfway due to his father’s death.
His political career started with a small stint at the Bangalore central jail during the Emergency. He along with a few others were jailed during a protest at Yeshwantpur. He met senior BJP leader L K Advani in the jail. However, Ashoka says he owes his uncle Annaiah his political career. Some years back, as he was running away from making a speech for P G R Sindhia in the Kanakapura Lok Sabha segment, his uncle caught him and forcibly pushed him into addressing the crowd. Making public speeches then became a commonplace for Ashoka and a platform for his political career to start.
You have completed one year as the transport minister. How was it (difficult/ easy)…?
It was difficult initially. I faced a lot of problems. The fluctuation in diesel prices added to the troubles, two times the central government hiked diesel prices. In that time we had thought of increasing the price of bus tickets because of the price rise of diesel. And then we faced huge public protest on the issue. It was tough to deal with the situation but that was the time I decided to have very less hike in the ticket fares. Ultimately we are serving the people and they need to be happy. Our decision was welcomed by everyone. It is important to think from the people’s perspective.
*Editors’ Note: The BMTC increased its fares by 4 per cent from 8th July 2009 because of rise in petrol and diesel prices.
Do you think more people are traveling by buses because of low hike in tickets?
Yes, of course. Our KSRTC and BMTC per day collection is Rs.6 crores each now. Before it used to be not more than Rs.3-4 crores.
How about performance of Volvos running inside the city?
We are introducing only now, so we should give it some time. Even now there are very few Volvo buses running in the city. Right now there are 200 volvo buses in Bangalore then we have KSRTC Volvo buses. The long route Volvo buses are also very popular.
Is Volvo profitable?
In KSRTC, yes Volvos are very profitable. In BMTC, the airport and IT company routes are giving profits. The other routes are yet to gain momentum. Some routes are certainly not giving us profits. It is still a new introduction in many areas. It is improving day to day and very soon it will be popular all over city.
There is so much rush in the BMTC regular buses and people have to fight to find a seat, what is the point in introducing more Volvos when not many people travel in Volvos?
I want to leave my car, in Bangalore there is not proper parking facility, I want to travel, how do I travel? Go to regular BMTC bus, there is so much rush you cant get a comfortable seat, pickpockets; I want to travel comfortably. In Bangalore there was no proper transport system for these requirements. I felt unhappy for this. So I introduced Volvos*. Here 100 per cent you get a comfortable seat, air conditioner, comfortable travel. I am forced to leave my car and travel in a bus. It also helps reduce the traffic congestion and pollution. I know not all Volvos are running well but my intention is to provide more and more mass transport.
*Editors’ Note: Volvo buses were actually launched in 2006 by the Kumaraswamy government.
Why not Tata Marcopolo but Volvo?
Those buses were having some technical faults. In the entire India, Volvo are the only buses that have a low flooring. Even Tata buses are not low floored, therefore we opted for Volvos. Now Tata is trying to come up with a low floor option.
Editors’ Note: Low-flooring is convenient to climb, especially for senior citizens and physically challenged.
How are the HOHO and BIG 10 services running?
Big 10 is popular now*. In Big 10 we are using Volvo and Suvarna buses. The HOHO is not as popular now, but will be popular in the due course. It is still new and many people are not aware of it, gradually it will also gain popularity. People who were traveling in autorickshaws are now traveling in Big 10.
*Editors’ note: Ashoka has no numbers to show on how many people are traveling in Big 10, or how much revenue collection BMTC is earning from it. After asking him for numbers several times he finally said: No I have not done any survey but I know the number of bus travelers has increased.
Our buses are also increasing (number of buses) now we will be introducing another 1000 buses (Volvo as well as regular buses) because the number of commuters in buses is increasing each day. Out of the 1000 buses only 200 will be Volvo buses, remaining 800 will be regular buses. The tendering process is almost done for this and from July onwards every month 100-200 buses will be introduced each month.
Do you think only increasing the number of buses on road will encourage people to travel in mass transport?
Why are people not traveling in public transport is because of the comfort they get in their own vehicle. They can reach any place at any desired time if they go by their own vehicle. But the perception about BMTC buses in the minds of people is very different. They will be thinking about not getting a seat, rush. I want to change this mindset of Bangaloreans. With the introduction of Volvos and Suvarna buses the person traveling is sure of getting a comfortable seat. We are also proud of introducing Atal Sarige, for the poor people. The bus ticket is 50 per cent of the cost of a ticket in a regular bus. All these things are making our transport department for the people.
As of now we have introduced 25 Atal Sarige buses, which will be running only in the slum areas so that the people living there can avail the services. The buses are running slum areas of Banashankari, Koramangala, Kamala Nagar, and so on.
Because the ticket fare is so low, everyone would want to travel by the Atal Sarige leading to too much rush, might even lead to no service for the deserving…
We have introduced it for the poor people. People who are going for construction work, maids and so on, and so we are running the buses only on routes where poor people live. Even if other people travel in those buses, we don’t mind. My intention behind this service is to facilitate the poor people, and most of them will be benefited is what I feel. In fact event the design of the buses is for their convenience. The seats are arranged all around the sides and there is enough space in the middle for people to keep their belongings.
You are introducing 1000 more buses, in sometime Metro will also be in the city. In five years time people would travel more by Metro than traveling by buses and these buses might end up running empty. What then? Why introduce so many buses now?
(Thinks..) Metro’s line is very restricted. It is from east to west and north to south. But who will bring the people to the metro station. Our BMTC will bring people to the Metro stations. But my intention is in another three, four, five years I want to reduce the use of autorickshaws and personal vehicles. I want to change the mindset of Bangaloreans and make them all travel more in mass transport. My intention is not of more buses in Bangalore but of more people using mass transport.
After the completion of Metro, we will be introducing one ticket system. That is you take Metro ticket and you can also travel in BMTC bus, you take BMTC ticket and you can travel in Metro too. This system we have already introduced for rural Karnataka. For e.g.: If you are coming from Channapatna or Hoskote, you take a KSRTC ticket from their, then when you come to Bangalore, you can travel in BMTC anywhere on that ticket and then go back to Hoskote.
Now we will be introducing smart card also Karnataka is the only state to have centralised RTO system. Bangalore has the best buses in the country. You will not find Volvo buses anywhere else in India. Hyderabad has recently ordered for 50 buses. Three months back the central government gave the best award for mass transport to KSRTC. We are the only profit making public transport system in India.
Editors’ Note: From June 25, Driving Licences and Registration Certificates have been replaced by smart cards in the state. Now all drivers applying for new DLs and RCs in 55 RTOs of the state will be issued a smart card, embedded with microprocessor chip, with a 4 KB memory. This can be availed within a day of application, by paying Rs.200. The smart cards will be connected to all RTOs in the state. Ashoka says will benefit both the public as well as law-enforcing agencies.
Are you even planning to have a system in place that can tell people which bus at what time will go from where to where? A lot of people are not traveling by buses also because the there is no schedule that the buses follow. People are not sure if they will get a bus at a desired time to reach their destination.
We are planning to introduce electronic notices in bus stands and on all buses for this purpose. As of now in the BIAL bus service the bus timings and the route are clearly mentioned. Within a year’s time this facility will be implemented in all the bus shelters and on every bus. It will have all the details of when the bus will start from where, what time will it arrive and so on. My intention is perfect timing, good buses and more people using mass transport.
Editors’ note: Bangaloreans are used to seeing BMTC buses with Kannada-only signboards, the Volvos have been running with English signs. Also, Pushpak and Suvarna buses are carrying English signs. Ashoka says that all buses are going to have bilingual signs soon.
When you talk about profit, actually the profits have been decreasing over the years…
I think we are having more and more development over the years. I am not interested in profit making. My intention is to give back to our customers whatever we are getting as profit. What is the use of getting a Rs.200 crores (Ashoka is referring to profit of both BMTC and KSRTC clubbed together) profit and keeping it in the bank. My intention is to give the benefits to the people. This year it’s a record, Rs.440 crores we are investing for bus stand construction. Hi-tech world class bus stands. In another 10 months Bangalore bus stands will be international level bus stands. I am not just making claims but I have already started construction in some places. Already 30-40 per cent work is done for some bus stands.
We have bought 250 acres land in Bangalore for the construction of bus shelters. 12 bus shelters will be built, one in Banashankari, Koramangala, Whitefield, Kengeri, Jayanagar, Hebbal, so on. The work is going on. Jayanagar bus shelter will be ready in another 3 months. So what will be the income from that bus stand you know… it will be a four floor underground bus stand, above it will be a mall. This will be a permanent income, this is profit. There are commercial complexes, lakhs of sq ft and permanent income. Do you think this is loss? I don’t think that I should increase bus fares every time petrol, diesel rises. I look for alternate ways.
Till now bus stands were not having proper restrooms, no proper counters. The public who is paying for all this was deprived of basic facilities, so what was the use of heavy profits. It is the duty of our department to give back to the people from the profit. Now you are saying the profit number has reduced, you add this Rs.440 crores and then tell me how much is the profit?
Just think about the vision of BMTC. We have deposited Rs.45 crores with the BDA (for bus stand construction). We are already thinking about a new ring road in Bangalore. BDA is going to start that work in another two months for the ring road. It will be a 220 feet wide road around Bangalore. It will be a world class road.
My intention is that we have to think before doing. What is the point of thinking about no parking lot, etc. five years after the road completion we think that there was need of a bus stand here…I have put in a long term thinking and proper planning. I am constructing bus stands at the time of road construction. Don’t think about the profit and loss. Think where are we using the profit.
Other means to promote mass transport (in relation to HOHO), like providing no parking inside the CBD, therefore leaving people with no other option but to use the buses…
My thinking is also same. Forward countries like England have such systems. We are also planning to implement similar systems for our city.
Do you think road widening will solve traffic problems?
No, No I don’t think so. How many roads will you widen? This will be just a 5 per cent contribution to traffic problems nothing more than that. Metro will give around 20 per cent relief in the traffic. The only solution I can see is of mass transport implementation.
How do you think has the transport department grown in the last one year? Where was it when you came and where is it now?
When I came in with set goals. I encouraged mass transport. The main problem in Bangalore is of traffic. Where ever you go there is traffic jams and slow traffic and the main reason behind it is more and more number of cars, personal vehicles, auto rickshaws, all these add to the traffic of the city. Encouraging public transport is the only solution to the existing traffic woes. It will also reduce the increasing pollution in the city.
I introduced Volvo. (Again, the claim.) Volvo is now very popular. Especially for the airport, this is the only means of transport that people depend on. Even rich people these days prefer traveling by BMTC Volvo for airport. They leave their cars and come to our buses.
There are 10,000 trainees in KSRTC now, who are working as trainees for more than a year now and are deprived of any benefits, bonuses, pay packages, no proper working conditions, shouldn’t that improve, what is the dept doing for that?
From the past ten years our dept is having 2 years training and they get Rs 2000 as pay. When I came within one month I changed this system and increased their pay to Rs 3500, I have also introduced better medical facilities for the workers, health insurance, etc everything I introduced. The workers are now getting a 3 per cent commission of whatever profits our dept is making. I am also planning to reduce the two years training period also.
Complaints about bus drivers..
We have 20,000 buses and there is a shortage of 6000 drivers. Naturally, then the existing drivers have to work more. Most of them are working non stop for 15-16 hours. But this problem will be solved now. We have already appointed 6000 drivers for the KSRTC and 3000 will be appointed for BMTC by July. The process is going on.
Can’t we put the trainees in the vacancies?
These vacancies are other than the trainees, the trainees are yet to complete their training.
On reappointment of drivers responsible for fatal accidents
We give one chance to all the drivers. But if the offence is repeated then they are fired.
There is a lot of disillusion about BMLTA and its functioning.. Your take
(Gives a blank look, I repeat the question with the full form of BMLTA, his blank look continues) What, any problem in that committee? Ummm ummm aaa mmmm…I think Chief minister and Ananth Kumar’s committee.
Reporter’s note: I try to give him a clue by naming Gaurav Gupta, the IAS Officer who was the former head of BMLTA and KSRTC but he seems clueless. The minister did not appear to know about the BMLTA at all.
What is your take on G-category land given to MLAs and MPs?
(G-category refers to BDA sites allotted at the discretion of the chief minister)
This is related to CM, so the question goes to CM. (I ask him again: do you think it is fair if MLAs and MPs get land under G-category?)
G-category was not started by our government, it is there for the past 20 years. The question should be for those who have introduced this. G-category means some eminent personalities in various fields like artists, sports persons, freedom fighters. (I ask again… he laughs). I don’t know. I do not want to comment on this. My name has never appeared for G-category so I don’t know and I do not want to comment on this question.
Editors’ Note:The BDA’s annual report 2007-08 has named “R Ashoka, Minister” as a recipient of a BDA site.
Something about yourself..
I am a sportsman. I was a Kabbaddi player, I have played Kabbaddi for Bangalore University, and even at state level. I cannot play anymore because there is no time left and I am also having knee problems now. I love nature, especially sea and rivers. I like to go out on vacations. I don’t get time for vacations that often now.
Also I love eating chicken and fish preparations. But these days as I am on diet I miss eating them. I have to reduce weight (he smiles). ⊕
Minister sir bus fare is very high i cant spend tat much of money so im going buy 2 wheeler. I fed up with the bus fare. I think many of them thinking like me. This is major reason for which people r buying own vehicles.
Why dont you travel by Auto ????
Very correct Ranganath! A few travels by his own BMTC will make the minister obtain first hand information on ground realities, shake up the transport system, sharpen the employees as also escalate his popularity as a minister. But is he on the listening watch or are his advisors noting for his information?
would like to tell the minister that he is also a bangalorean,so he also has to use mass transport and set an good examlpe to the public.
Very valid point Mr Ramaiah Setty. Hope the journalists and the minister are taking note of it.
Kindly take immediate steps to introduce CNG (Compressed Natural Gas) in place of Petroleum in Public Transport Vehicles as quickly as possible to achieve economy and clean environment as is enjoyed by New Delhi people for the last several years successfully. It will also help reduce the fares and relieve the burden on common man in these hard days and they will appreciate you for your kind and appropriate measures. Awaiting for kind response at the earliest.
volvos indeed are luring people from autos and cars, when travelling on long routes. i think the minister is on the right path. volvos give us a very pleasant ride, making us forget that we are using public transport
The interview was OK. However an interview with the minister on a very important mass transportation system should have been with more detailed home work. Mass transport system of our city has mostly tried to fire fight burning problems without thinking futuristic. How money comes and is spend is very crucial to effective management, which has been widely left out in the interview. There also needs to be effective measures to plug pilferages and manipulations to run an organisation cost effectively. BMTC fares are comparitively very high and considering the over crowding in buses, they should have been highly profitable. Volvo fares too are too high and costlier than travelling by own car, an aspect if neglected cannot make economically viable services and also reduction in traffic on the roads. The BMTC’s bus boards and sign postings restricted to only Kannada in most cases, neglects about 30% of public transport users again a negative side of the service. There are better ways to make our rich language popular. The way most BMTC drivers drive, one can presume maintainance cost must be more than cost of leasing of a bus with driver. The Minister should have been asked specifically about action against rash and negligent drivers and administrative reforms brought in to reduce accidents.
Considering the wealth of many class 3 and 2 officials raided by Lokayuktha, the ministers assets is not astonishing and as long as money wins elections and ministerial posts,there cannot be clean politics. Also his family has sacrificed lot of real estate for public cause the cost of which would have been a real good fortune for generations to come. However, these are no excuses if there is any known and evident curruption.
I was expecting some intelligent questions from you, but you disappointed.
Thank you for the feedback. We need to let you know that the interview was done both as a profile of the Minister and his recent work as well his positions on key transportation challenges the city faces. That is why it is structured the way it is. Having said that we realise that this approach may not work well
for all readers.
Also, in some cases, below his answers to questions, we have put our own verification of his claims, in italics. If these are not prominent enough (or you
misunderstood them as his own words) let us know and we will fix that.
Mr. Chakraborty (journalist), you just answered your own questions for me, beginning with paragraph 3. Go figure!
Why don’t you become the transport minister, whom you think is a moron?
I am sure you are among those, who use 49-O, just to show that they know how to waste a precious vote by voting for nobody?
By the way what intelligent questions did you wanted to ask from R Ashok? Although we can’t get answers to those intelligent questions anymore, but you can at least enlighten the journalist and readers. (Will be waiting for those questions)
Editors please read:
I personally hate these kind of question answer interview, because its a lazy way of writing an interview.
I want to know why citizenmatters write Q&A type of interview? You are simply leaving it to the reader to decide what is the most important thing in your interview by reading all questions and answers. It is your job to give me the most important news in the lede.
You have to agree with me that most of your readers don’t go beyond one page of every article you publish. So, why don’t you give the most important information in the lede?
Anyone can ask a questions and get an answer (Even Mr Pramod can!), but only a journalist can write a story out of it.
Being a journalist, I know in the beginning of an interview you can’t ask hot/pertinent questions as the interviewee could think that you are here with an agenda. So, its better to start with questions that can open him up a little. But as a reader I am not interested in those warm-up Q&A. So, please stop the same boring “The Hindu” style of reporting an interview.
I actually think the minister’s responses are pretty balanced and well spoken – I would actualy not expect such kind of responses from a politial end. Just arrived back from the airport in a Vayu Vajra. Smart Service. Would not do that in another city in India….
What kinda questioning is this? You’re just asking the moron minister some leading questions and he’s providing the same pre-packaged answers. It’s obvious you guys need to prepare well before interviewing a minister.
While the issues regarding local public transport have been discussed in fair detail, comments such as “I introduced Volvo. (Again, the claim.)” and “The BDA’s annual report 2007-08 has named “R Ashok, Minister” as a recipient of a BDA site.” if true, should be either dealt with during the interview itself or not mentioned at all.